Dr. Robert Hawthorne White (1951 – 2014)

Dr. Robert White, our dear friend and colleague, died peacefully on March 19, 2014 while at work. Dr. White was a renowned research scientist at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) for 39 years. He held a PhD in Forestry from University of Wisconsin, a MS in Forest Products from Oregon State University and a BS in Wood Science from Penn State University. After working as a summer student at the FPL in 1972, Robert aspired to have a career in wood science and landed his first and only job at the Forest Products Laboratory in 1975. He was internationally-recognized by colleagues and mentored numerous scientists and students from all over the world.

robert whiteRobert’s research has had a major impact on establishing safety standards of building materials used in construction. Throughout his career, Robert had considerable involvement with ASTM International, chairing and serving on numerous committees that establish building code standards. He received the L.J. Markwardt Award in 2007 for his distinguished contributions to the knowledge of wood as an engineering material as related to improved utilization efficiency of this renewable resource. In 2009, ASTM presented Dr. White with an Award of Merit and an honorary title of Fellow for recognition of his outstanding contributions to the development of ASTM standards. Robert authored or co-authored more than 120 scientific publications over his career and his accomplishments were frequently highlighted in Washington D.C. by Forest Service Research & Development. He was responsible for the development of an on-line database for fire test data. The database, created in 2010 to provide a comprehensive source of test data files to the public, has been downloaded more than 150,000 times to date. Robert’s unparalleled integrity heralded his notoriety as a University lecturer, graduate student advisor, counselor to local fire departments, host to International visiting scientists, advisor to Underwriters Laboratories, and service as an expert witness.

Robert served as the Project Leader of Fire Safety and Wood Preservation for 14 years and was the Team Leader of Fire Safety Research for the past 9 years. He was an internationally-recognized expert on regulatory fire resistance tests and fire performance of wood products. Robert was as genuine as they come. He was best known for his meticulous attention to detail, scientific integrity and sense of humor. Robert was the pillar of the fire safety team at FPL and his expertise will be irreplaceable. Robert was a longtime member of the IAFSS.

Awards at the 11th International Symposium

In connection with the  banquet at the 11th International Conference of Fire Safety Science in Christchurch the awardees of the IAFSS and FORUM awards were announced. The awardees are listed below and more information of the different awards can be found on the IAFSS awards page.


The venue of the symposium banquet was the Cardboard Cathedral in Christchurch.


Emmons Award

  • Professor Michael Delichatsios with a talk entitled “Enclosure and Façade Fires: Physics and Applications”

Kunio Kawagoe Gold Medal

  • Professor Ian Thomas

Philip Thomas Medal of Excellence

  • Dr. Hong-Zeng (Bert) Yu, FM Global, USA, for his paper titled “Physical Scaling of Water Mist Suppression of Pool Fires in Enclosures” (Presented at the 10th Symposium)

Best Thesis Award “Excellence in Research”

  • (Europe and Africa) Dr. Thomas Gernay, for the thesis titled “A multiaxial constitutive model for concrete in the fire situation including transient creep and cooling down phases,” Université de Liège, Belgium (2012)
  • (Americas) Dr. Kristopher James Overholt, for the thesis titled “Forward and Inverse Modeling of Fire Physics Towards Fire Scene Reconstructions,” The University of Texas at Austin, USA (2013)
  • (Asia and Oceania) Dr. Chao Zhang for the thesis titled “Reliability of Steel Columns Protected by Intumescent Coatings Subjected to Natural Fires,” Tongji University, China (2012)

Honorable Mentions:

  • Dr. John Gales, for the thesis titled “Unbonded Post Tensioned Concrete Structures in Fire,” University of Edinburgh, UK (2013)
  • Dr. Mélanie Rochoux for the thesis titled “Towards a more comprehensive monitoring of wildfire spread Contributions of model evaluation and data assimilation strategies (Vers une meilleure prévision de la propagation d’incendies de forêt: Evaluation de modèles et Assimilation de données),” CNRS et École Centrale Paris, France (2014)
  • Dr. Steven Verstockt for the thesis “Multi-modal Video Analysis for Early Fire Detection (Analyse van multimodale video voor vroegtijdige branddetectie),” Universiteit Gent, Belgium (2012)

IAFSS Best Poster Award

  • Sung Chan Kim, Jung Yong Kim and Dong Myeong Ha for “An Experimental and Numerical Study of the Effect of Flow Angle on the Probe Constant of Bi-Directional Velocity Probe for Fire Testing” (Kyungil University and Semyung University, Korea).
  • Sullivan Lechêne, Romain Morlon, Elizabeth Blanchard, Caroline Rebuffat, Gilles Parent, Zoubir Acem, Anthony Collin and Pascal Boulet for “On real radiative shielding effect when applying water mist in case of fire.” (CSTB and Université de Lorraine, France).

Best Student Poster Award

  • Xinyan Huang and Guillermo Rein for “Computational Modelling of Smouldering Peat Fires: Predicting the Role of Moisture and Inert Contents” (Imperial College, London)
  • Cristian Maluk, Luke Bisby and Jose Luis Torero for “H-TRIS: Quantified, reproducible and rational thermal exposures for fire testing”

Best Fire Science Image Award

  • Egle Rackauskaite, Xinyan Huang and Guillermo Rein (Imperial College, London, UK) for the image entitled “Fire Watch Constellation.”
  • James White, Eric Link, Taylor Myers, Andre Marshall and Peter Sunderland (University of Maryland, College Park, USA) for the image entitled “Oxidizer Dilution Quenching of a Turbulent, Methane Line Flame.”

Dougal Drysdale Award for Extraordinary Service to the IAFSS

  • Dr. Amanda Robbins: “In recognition of her development of a new federated search tool, the IAFSS Fire ReSearch Engine”
  • Dr. Ron Alpert: “In recognition of his work leading the English Mentoring Program.”
  • Dr. Craig Beyler: “In recognition of his long service to the IAFSS Committee, especially for initiating open access to Association archives, expanding the IAFSS membership, leading the 2014 Nominating Committee, and for mentoring members of the IAFSS Committee.”

The IAFSS would also like to express their appreciation to Committee Members who are now leaving the committee after years of helpful service:

  • Dr. Craig Beyler
  • Dieter Brein
  • Prof. Nicholas A. Dembsey
  • Prof. Yuji Hasemi
  • Carole Franks


Awards sponsored by the International FORUM of Fire Research Directors:

The Sheldon Tieszen Student Award
Sponsored by: the International FORUM of Fire Research Directors


  1. Franz Evegren (SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden), for “Fire Testing of External Combustible Ship Surfaces,” in the area of Test Development, Diagnostics and Large Scale Experiments.
  2. Frida Vermina Lundström (DBI – Danish Institute of Fire and Security Technology), for “The Effect of Raised Walkway Design on Evacuation Behaviour in Rail Tunnels,” in the area of Human Factors and Risk Assessment.
  3. Patrick Summers (Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University, USA), for “Residual Constitutive Behavior of Aluminum Alloys after Fire Exposure,” in the area of Fire Chemistry and Fire Toxicity.
  4. Mélanie C. Rochoux (CERFACS, France), “Towards Predictive Simulation of Wildfire Spread at Regional Scale Using Ensemble-Based Data Assimilation to Correct the Fire Front Position,” in the area of Fire Physics and Fire Modeling.


The FORUM Student Travel Award
Sponsored by: the recipients of the 2012 Sjölin Award and the International FORUM of Fire Research Directors


Nicholas L. Brogaard and Martin X. Sørensen, for “A New Experimental Rig for Oil Burning on Water – Results for Crude and Pure Oils,” in the area of Test Development, Diagnostics and Large Scale Experiments.


The Sjölin Awards

Sponsored by: the International FORUM of Fire Research Directors


2012 FDS Development Team – K. McGrattan, H. Baum, G. Forney, R. McDermott, R. Rehm (NIST), J. Floyd (Hughes Associates Inc.), S. Hostikka, T. Korhonen (VTT), W. Mell (U.S. Forest Service).

2013 John deRis (FM Global).

2014 John Hall (NFPA).


The Mid-Career Researcher Award

Sponsored by: the International FORUM of Fire Research Directors


2014 Patrick van Hees (Lund University).


View Photos from the symposium banquet and awards ceremony:

Conference Review: Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference

The 4th Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference, an conference of the International Association of Wildland Fires (IAWF), was co-organized by Tomsk State University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the IAFSS.

This edition was quite peculiar as in order to extend its international outreach and create more opportunities around fire research, a second edition was held in St Petersburg, Russia on 1-4 July 2013, in addition to the US edition held in Raleigh on 18-22 February 2013. The US edition has been mentioned earlier in the previous issue of this newsletter (No. 35), so let us focus on the Russian edition and on the awards.

4th Fire Behavior and Fuels ConferenceThe Russian edition was a success, with around 150 attendees from all around the world with a large contingent of our colleagues from Russia, 7 keynote presentations, including Prof. Jose Torero for IAFSS, plus 75 oral presentations and over 40 posters representing the last research developments in fire behavior and fuels (see the program at www.iawfonline.org/2013FuelsConference). The three days of parallel sessions were preceded by a day with 5 workshops to present new applications developed in research and now available to end-users. Among those, a half-day workshop was organized by International Journal of Wildland Fires, the official journal of IAWF, to train non-native speakers to publish in scientific journals in English.

In addition to the technical part, a boat trip was organized along the Neva river. The excellent weather and the period of the year, the famous white nights, made it a memorable evening for all the participants (nothing related to the free pizza, beer and wine). The conference dinner was held in a nice restaurant on a beach along the Baltic Sea. The traditional Russian band set the tone of a decadent dinner (food but also many toasts and some dancing too) that the participants will remember for a long time. The sunset on the Gulf of Finland was also pretty amazing. Finally, a field trip was offered to the participants at the end of the conference in a nearby forest that was damaged by a recent wildfire. It was funny to see all the ecologists amazed by little plants and fungi, and all the fire scientists walking carelessly around and only looking at the destruction caused by the fire.

IAFSS, as co-organizer of the conference sponsored several awards for the two editions that included $500 prizes. The awarded papers are the following.


  • Best paper.  “First Look at Smoke Emissions from Prescribed Burns in Long-unburned Longleaf Pine Forests” by Timothy Johnson, Sheryl Akagi, Robert Yokelson, Ian Burling, David Weise, James Reardon and Shawn Urbanski.
  • Best applied paper: “Fire behaviour prediction tools for fire managers – lessons learned from tools development in New Zealand” by H. Grant Perce and Veronica R. Clifford.
  • Best student paper: “Observations of fire behavior on a grass slope during a wind reversal” by Diane Hall, Allison Charland, Craig Clements, Daisuke Seto, Jon Contezac and Braniff Davis.

St. Petersburg:

  • Best paper: “Mathematical Modeling of Crown Forest Fires with Fire breaks” by Valeriy Perminov.
  • Best student paper: “Relating Vertical Wind Profiles to Vegetation Structure for Fire Behaviour Prediction” by Kangmin Moon, Thomas Duff and Kevin Tolhurst.
  • Best applied paper: “Multi-scale Simulation of a Very Large Fire Incident. Computation from the Combustion to the Atmospheric Meso-Scale” by Jean-Baptiste Filippi, Celine Mari C. and Frédéric Bosseur.

Two special issues are in preparation for the International Journal of Wildland Fire and the Fire Safety Journal that will present a selection of the best contributions presented during the US and Russian editions.

Signed: Albert Simeoni, University of Edinburgh

Read more conference reviews in the latest edition of Fire Safety Science News, #36

A Guide to the Upholstered Furniture Fire Problem and TB 117

Below is a featured article from Fire Safety Science News #36 by John R. Hall, Jr. of the National Fire Protection Association

Those of us in fire safety science try to ‘solve’ big parts of the fire problem, where ‘solve’ means a large reduction. Typically, a proposal for a new solution must overcome objections along the following lines:

  • The solution won’t work.  It is unreliable or ineffective.
  • The solution costs too much.  The benefits of are smaller than the costs.
  • Other solutions are better.  Changing behavior or changing some other involved item (e.g., switching between heat source and item ignited) would be better.
  • The solution creates bigger problems (other types of harm) than it removes.
  • The targeted fire problem is not that big and/or is declining rapidly.  It does not need a solution.

Sometimes objections like these are accurate and deserve to be factored into the societal decisions about a particular solution.  However, accurate or not, they will always be raised by parties who prioritize other factors over fire losses.

We have been working on the upholstered furniture fire problem for half a century.  Along the way, we have built a consensus on what solutions work, how well they work, how much they cost, how much they are needed, and what non-fire consequences they have.  More recently, that consensus has come unstuck because of accumulating evidence that some of our “solutions” create serious non-fire problems.

The signal event marking this changing consensus was the 2013 decision in California to delete the small open flame portion of the requirements contained in Technical Bulletin 117.  This is – or was – the only regulation in North America that addressed non-smoldering fires involving upholstered furniture.  Because California is such a large part of the North American market, TB 117 had an impact far beyond the state of California. I will leave it to others to describe the growing concerns with flame retardant treatments of upholstered furniture and associated effects on people’s health.  In the limited space available here, I want to frame the discussion of what we should do next in terms of the size and characteristics of the fire problem.  Our challenge is to develop a best estimate of the challenge we face, and then consider the pros and cons of alternative strategies to address that challenge.

From 1980-1984 to 2006-2010, estimated annual average home fires and losses involving upholstered furniture as the first item ignited declined substantially (see figure).

Figure: Number of US home fires and deaths with upholstered furniture as the first item ignited.

During this decline, civilian deaths declined by 61%, from 1,220 (25% of total home fire deaths) to 480 (19%), and fires declined by 77%, from 29,400 (4% of the total) to 6,700 (2%). Moreover, civilian injuries declined by 68%, from 2,630 (13% of the total) to 840 (7%), and direct property damage, after adjustment for inflation to 2010 dollars, declined by 17%, from $522 million (7% of the total) to $434 million (6%). On the one hand, this is a story of great progress, with hundreds of lives saved each year.  On the other hand, this remains one of the largest parts of the U.S. fire death problem.

U.S. fire statistics are based on the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS), dating back to 1980.  Starting in about 2003, changes to NFIRS made it possible to estimate fires associated with a product in the role of the most important secondary item ignited.  Using this new data (see 2nd row in the table below), NFPA constructed the following analysis considering all of the large pieces of data in the furniture fire problem. 



Civilian Deaths

Civilian Injuries

Direct Damage (in US$ millions)

 Lighted tobacco product

 1,900 (21%)


 270 (45%)

 320 (29%)

 $97 (17%)

 Open flame from other fire  (secondary item)

 2,200 (25%)

 130 (21%)

 280 (25%)

 $138 (24%)

 Operating equipment

 1,500 (17%)

 70 (12%)

 140 (13%)

 $81 (14%)

 Small open flame

 1,400 (16%)

 60 (10%)

 220 (20%)

 $69 (12%)

 Ember, ash or other or  unclassified hot or smoldering  object

 1,300 (15%)

 60 (10%)

 130 (11%)

 $150 (27%)

 Unclassified, other or multiple  heat source

 600 (7%)

 20 (3%)

 30 (3%)

 $31 (5%)


 8,900 (100%)

 610 (100%)

 1,120 (100%)

 $566 (100%)

Table: Upholstered furniture home fire problem, 2006-2010 averages, by major scenario.

The figure below shows upholstered furniture fire deaths by type of ignition source. This comprehensive overview tells us some useful things. Lighted tobacco products (principally cigarettes, cigars and pipes, but not including matches and lighters) account for 45% of upholstered furniture home fire deaths, dwarfing any other scenario but not dwarfing all other scenarios combined.


The 12% share for operating equipment and the 10% share for ember, ash or other or unclassified hot or smoldering object, both could be treated as likely smoldering ignitions, addressable by a smoldering fire test, but it is not clear that these fires are well represented by a lit cigarette applied to places where discarded cigarettes tend to land. The 31% of deaths associated with some kind of flaming ignition are numerous enough to justify our attention.

The question finally is what to do with this information. NFPA has been asked to develop a flaming-ignition test for upholstered furniture.  In the process, we are considering not just small flaming ignitions but also ignitions by another burning object.  Our goal is to be able to assess candidate technologies and designs for their effectiveness in addressing scenarios of importance.  The question of when and whether to build binding requirements around any test is a separate question that involves other considerations.

I don’t know anyone who wants to adopt a requirement that can be satisfied only by technologies that create more problems than they solve.  I understand different parties have different opinions about the implications of the evidence for reliability, effectiveness, cost, and non-fire effects.  I have a problem with anyone who wants to prejudge the debate by excluding certain fires or certain non-fire effects from the discussion.  I know my employer, NFPA, is trying very hard to be a fair and honest broker in these discussions and to keep the discussion and the search for solutions comprehensive in every sense of the word.  I hope readers of this piece will do likewise.

You can read additional articles on this topic published in the IAFSS Newsletter, Fire Safety Science News on this topic:

In Fire Safety Science News #36:
Effectiveness vs. Toxicity of Flame Retardants by David Rich
Open Flame Testing of Upholstered Furniture and Fire Safety by Marcelo M. Hirschler